Brothers and Sisters: Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us—see that you excel in this gracious work also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15)
I once heard that whenever St. John Paul II received anything in one hand, within an instant it was transferred to the other in order to give whatever he had received to someone else in need.
I’ve always been struck by that image—not only because it reveals an extraordinary level of selflessness and detachment, but also because it reveals an astonishing depth of trust in the provision and providence of God. At no point in his life did he ever have great means and yet he never ceased to give abundantly; and though he certainly faced considerable trials, he never ceased to be a man of boundless hope, joy and love.
In a very real sense it is this same ethic which lies behind St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian Church in the passage above. The specifics, of course, are different—they, after all, are being called to give out of their abundance for the sake of the Jerusalem Church, which was dire need—but the motive for and means by which they are called to give is precisely the same as that which drove St. John Paul II in his life of giving: it is all about grace.
The word appears twice in the passage above, first describing the work to which they are called and then describing the standard by which their work is to be measured. They are called to a gracious work because they know the grace of the Lord Jesus. “The very One whom you claim to love and serve became poor so that you might become rich,” he seems to say, “therefore you should strive to be like him.”
However, the dynamic at play is not merely one of comparison, for if that were the case, they (and we) would never measure up.
No, it is far richer and infinitely more beautiful than that. The word translated as grace has the connotation of “leaning towards” and is “preeminently used of the Lord’s favor—freely extended to give Himself away to people”. It refers to God “freely extending Himself…reaching (inclining) to people because He is disposed to bless (be near) them” (Strongs 5485).
It is not just that in Christ they have received an example to emulate; it is that in Christ they have received God himself, pouring himself out to and for people so that they might be near him and have life in him. Having received this incomparable grace, they are called to become sources of it through their own self-giving in the world around them, in order that others, too, might have that life.
And in so doing, they not only give themselves to the world around them, but they give the One who is in them and acts through them. That is to say that, in them (and us!) God continues to freely extend himself…reaching to people because He is disposed to bless them.
Notice, however, that although the call to give requires sacrifice on their part, it is not at their expense. Paul is clear that he does not intend that others should be eased and they be burdened. No, the call for them to give is ultimately a call to trust in the provision of God, who provided the manna referenced in the quote at the end of the passage, for all things come from Him and through Him. And as Paul asks elsewhere, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom 8:32).
Here the call is to give money; earlier they are called to show mercy to one who has hurt their community (2:9). In both cases, Paul is clear that their response is the means by which the earnestness of their faith will be tested, for in their obedience they will show that, through the power of Jesus’ love, they no longer live for themselves but for others, and above all for God (Thomas Stegman, SJ; CCC 1822).
Where might you be called to give? Is it financially to someone in need? Or perhaps through acts of service or works of mercy? Wherever it may be, trust that in doing so you will not only become a source of God’s grace to the world around you, but you too will receive that same grace in abundance, For the Lord will not be outdone in generosity.
After many experiences and a lot of thinking, I am convinced that the (objective) starting point of love is the realization that I am needed by another. The person who objectively needs me most is also, for me, objectively, the person I most need. This is a fragment of life’s deep logic, and also a fragment of trusting in the Creator and in Providence. (Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, by George Weigel, p. 102.)
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.